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Vancouver's More Unusual Festivals

By Edited Nov 25, 2015 0 0

Vancouver is a very multi-cultural city that loves to have fun.  Here are a few of the festivals that Vancouver has become famous for. 


Invented by then Simon Fraser University student Todd Wong in 1998 and then transformed into a fundraiser for his dragon boat team, the Gong Haggis Fat Choy concept continues to grow and spread.  Bringing together Chinese New Years and the Scottish celebration of  Robert Burns Day on Burn's January 25 birthday.

In Vancouver the celebration of Gong Haggis Fat Choy is seen as a symbol of how the city will combine cultures in untraditional ways. With variation from year to year, the event is characterized by music, poetry, and other performances around the city, culminating in a large banquet and party.  

Todd Wong's dragon boat team promotes Gong Haggis Fat Choy at dragon boat festivals in the region, and his alter ego Toddish McWong has become an international celebrity. 

By 2005, the event had grown to a fundraising dinner serving 570 people, and co-hosted by Shelagh Rogers - the host of CBC Radio's "Sounds Like Canada" morning flagship show. The dinner event featured Asian Canadian poetry by author Fred Wah, singalongs of Scottish songs such as Scotland the Brave and Auld Lang Syne, plus new twists such as "When Asian Eyes are Smiling." Highland dancing was performed by champion dancers Vincent and Cameron Collins.

In the tradition of combining cultures, traditional dishes of Gong Haggis Fat Choy include deep-fried haggis won ton, and haggis lettuce wrap.

While Robert Burn's birthday is the same every year, Chinese New Year moves around, so the exact date of the festival events varies.  For the current year's events, look for the Gong Haggis Fat Choy Facebook page.


Started back in 1985, the Vancouver International Fringe Festival attracts a lot of attention by hosting unjuried, uncensored content.  All proceeds from shows go directly to the performers, with the organization supported by volunteers and donations. 

Rather than exercising any kind of quality control, the Fringe organizers literally pull names from a hat to assign performers to venues.  You just never know what you will see at the Fringe.

In keeping with the idea of “Fringe,” there are two venue options for artists. “Mainstage” venues in and around Granville Island are allocated by the festival organizers via lottery. These Mainstage Venues include some of Vancouver’s best theatres including the New Revue Stage, Performance Works, and the Waterfront Theatre.  

Artists can also “Bring Their Own Venue” (BYOV) which has resulted in plays being performed in non-conventional locations such as a boat, a tree, a fire escape, and the back of a bicycle!

Every year the Fringe delivers an eclectic mix of un-juried, uncensored theatrical offerings. Presenting live theatre in an informal, accessible and inexpensive environment, the Fringe strives to break down traditional boundaries between audiences and artists, encouraging open dialogue between theatre-goers and theatre-creators. Audiences are invited to experience the work of emerging artists and seasoned veterans. Local, national and international artists benefit from working together and learning from each other in a vibrant and exciting festival atmosphere.


The Carol Ships 'Parade of Lights' Society began over 50 years ago with one boat decorated with Christmas lights in Coal Harbour off the Bayshore Inn (now the Westin Bayshore Resort & Marina). The December tradition has grown to include more than 50 decorated boats that cruise around Burrard Inlet to the delight of both passengers and those on shore.  In a typical year over 30,000 people ride a carol ship during the 20 night festival. Shore based activities complement the waterborne festival. 

To participate, one can book a seat on one of the many Carol Ships.  This typically includes a 2.5 hour cruise, dinner and on the larger ships, dancing.  Alternatively, the ships can be watched for free anywhere along Burrard Inlet on evenings that they sail.

Burnaby and North Vancouver host Carol ships and Bonfire events in public parks where hot chocolate is served and the lite boats may be observed. Other events vary by the year and who is interested in hosting public events.


With origions in Expo 86, the Canadian International Dragon Boat Festival Society (CIDBFS) produces the Dragon Boat Festival each June and operates a number of other dragon boat and paddling events throughout the year.

Special Programs and Events in False Creek and Richmond include:

  • Race and Practice Registration
  • Corporate Team Building
  • Kayak and Canoe Boat Rentals
  • Learn to Paddle Courses
  • School and Community Group Programs

The family oriented event has grown and shrunk since 1986 depending on funding, but highlights have seen international teams from many countries and even the first State sponsored Chinese team to compete outside of China.

The initial races for Expo 86 were held on the water just to the west of the Cambie Street Bridge, using the grassy green space of False Creek Slopes (on the south side of the creek) for the land festivities. Later this was modified to use a race course of 6 lanes of 640 metres in length (i.e. the same distance as in Hong Kong's Tsim Sha Tsui harbour) to the east of the Cambie Street Bridge, but still in False Creek.

As more boats we imported from Hong Kong, the number of lanes was gradually to 9.  The number of teams participating also grew from the initial 18 in 1986 to 100 in the early 1990s and to 150+ in more recent years. The distance was eventually reduced to 500 metres from 640 metres in keeping with the development of international standards by the IDBF.

The land portion of the festival, with its docks interfacing False Creek for exchanging crews, has also varied over the last 2 dozen years. Venues include the Plaza of Nations (one of the remaining Expo 86 sites) on the north shore, Science World on the east end of False Creek and, most recently, Creekside Community Recreation Centre on the south shore of False Creek.

False Creek is a tidal area so racers may experience water flowing with them, against them, or slack tide, each of which impacts the times. Published race result are not handicapped to correct for head or tail current effects, meaning some consider these published results less then accurate.

Given the cultural diversity of Vancouver (it is considered North America's first Asian city) and that in the most recent censis 51% of Vancouver residents reported something other then English as their first language, it is not surprising that the City of Vancouver has developed such unique and cross cultural festivals.  



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